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Meet the Makers: Judy and Joe Brown of Garnet Studio

Meet the Makers: Judy and Joe Brown of Garnet Studio

New Yorkers Judy and Joe Brown’s blood runs garnet red. The couple has been gathering rocks embedded with this red jewel in the Adirondacks since before Gov. Nelson Rockefeller proclaimed it the New York State gem in 1969.

Judy and Joe run their small business, Garnet Studio, in North River, NY, with the mission of offering “a glimpse at local history, as well as a full range of custom-made jewelry using local garnet.”

And they couldn’t be better situated. The town of North River sits in the shadow of Gore Mountain, which boasts garnets that are superlative in both their size — they comprise the world’s largest garnet formations — and their density — they are uniquely 12-sided, and the hardest garnets on earth (they have an 8.5 rating on a 10-point scale).

Raw garnet in Garnet Studio. Photo: Audra Herman for New York States of Mind.

New York’s garnet industry dates back to the 1790s and really took off when Henry Hudson Barton founded his eponymous Barton Garnet Mines on Gore in 1878. A competing firm, Hooper Mine, opened on nearby Garnet Hill and operated from 1908 to 1928.

Judy and Joe’s lives have coalesced around these businesses. Joe’s father served as a foreman in Barton’s mining pit, and Joe sold souvenirs in the Barton Mineral Shop to support himself through college. Judy’s family owned the Garnet Hill Lodge, near the now-abandoned Hooper Mine, where Judy collected garnet throughout her childhood.

The husband and wife team, who say they spent their teenage years together on dates in the mines, “have a fascination with things that come from the earth.” Though Joe spent his career as an elementary school teacher and Judy worked as a dental assistant, they started a new chapter — or, really, revisited an old one — by formally educating themselves on the best ways to “take the native beauty of these minerals and shape them into custom jewels.” Joe is certified in colored stones by the Gemological Institute of America, has more than 30 years of faceting experience, and facets all the garnets used in Garnet Studio jewelry. Judy, who is certified in diamond setting by the Jewelry Institute, cuts cabochons, creates the company's designs, and sets the garnets in 14K gold and silver.

Judy at work in Garnet Studio. Photo: Courtesy Judy Brown.

The tools of the trade: burrs for cutting and carving garnet. Photo: Audra Herman for New York States of Mind.

The industrial strength of many Adirondack garnets, which are used in commercial glass cutting, actually presents a challenge in terms of finding jewelry-worthy specimens. Judy and Joe carefully select and sort rough garnets, all sourced within 50-miles of their studio. Those that pass muster are placed into barrels and tumbled for three months. Through constant friction with gritty textures, the rough stones emerge as beautiful, polished and wearable gems.

Formed over thousands of years, arising from extreme forces of pressure and materializing as something strong and sophisticated (in power color red), there are few things more definitively “New York” than an Adirondack garnet. Shop the Garnet Studio collection on New York Makers Marketplace to take home a piece of New York’s ancient history, built to last.

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